Tough (And Not in a Good Way)
“You know what kills me about this, dude, is that they wasted, I mean completely wasted, two unbelievable pitching performances from Rasner and Moose.” It was late this afternoon, and Acc and I were on the phone, both tracking the game on the gamecast. Melky had just grounded out to end the game.
Acc was right, of course. But this series had me beguiled in many different ways. There were lots of things I couldn’t get my arms around. I remember writing a post a few years ago when the Devil Rays were cellar dwellers but the Yankees couldn’t buy a win against them. This might be wildly overstated, but I think at one point the Yankees had lost 9 of 12 games against the Rays that year. I remember blaming Lou Piniella, who managed the team at the time. How is it that his team plays hard, tough, and smart against the Yankees, I asked, but lays down against everybody else in the entire league? The point was that the Rays that year were all over the field against the Yankees. They were making circus catches everywhere on the field, they were clutch, scoring something like 2/3 of their runs in one particular series with 2 outs and 2 strikes, and they got once-in-a-career performances from their starting pitchers, who walked almost no one.
Well……this was that. But worse. Because it was home. The result wasn’t as bad, as I think we lost three of four to the Rays at the time, but this was a killer, coming at home on the heels of an uplifting series win against the Blue Jays.
I was trying to figure this series out, and here’s what I came up with. I’m loathe to use the “perfect storm” cliché, as it’s getting a bit tired, but there was a lot that had to happen for this series to go the way it did. I mean, in the end, the Yankees were lucky to get even the split. They only led for 4 and ½ innings in the entire series. And they needed a miracle to pull out one of their wins and come from behind in the other, with the outcome of that one in doubt until the eighth inning. None of those things made sense. The Royals aren’t good. They find ways to beat themselves. They had lost 11 straight on the road coming in. They’re young and haven’t played smart or with any maturity, which prompted Jose Guillen to go on a tirade a few weeks back. So how did this happen?
1) The Royals played a flawless series. Not only did they make every single play in the field, but they made some stunning circus plays to save runs and games. They only made one error the entire series, and it didn’t cost them a run.
2) The Yankees, yet again, consistently failed in the clutch. Yes, they had some clutch hits in their comeback wins on Saturday and Sunday, but even those two games should not have been nearly that close. Especially not when you’re playing the Royals. The Yankees had opportunity after opportunity to deliver a kill shot in every one of the four games. Situations in which a well-timed double, for instance, would have effectively put the game out of reach. They got that kill shot exactly once, and that was Allie’s eighth inning double on Sunday. Once. In four games.
3) Jose Guillen played the best four game series of his career. And I don’t know a lot about his career. Nor do I have to. He was 9-16 with four bombs, three of which gave his team the lead, scored the go-ahead runs in each of the two games his team won, and gunned two guys out on the base paths, one at home.
4) The Yankee starters and Royals starters were equally good (and bad) in every single game. Not good for the Yanks, who would probably would like to think their starters are actually good.
5) The umpires blew two very bad calls this series. Both went against the Yanks, both were in the eighth inning of one-run games, both were with multiple men on base, and both were devastating to the momentum of the team, as the Yankees lost both of those games. And both, by the way, were by Ed Montague. Sorry guys, I know griping is tasteless, but these were obvious and they were crushing. On Friday night, Montague called a strike on a clear check swing by Giambi. It was, as Michael Kay said, the worst call on a check swing you’ll ever see. And it was with a full count with runners on first and second with two outs in a one-run game. Yeah. Ouch. To me, David Cone’s analysis was dead on. Royals’ catcher John Buck played Montague for a sucker and duped him into the call. The check swing truly wasn’t close, and the ball was in the dirt. John Buck sprang up, ran to get the ball that had kicked a few feet away from him, tagged Giambi, pumped his fist, and started running for the dugout, all without looking at the ump, as if the call was so easy to make that he didn’t even have to look. Montague didn’t make a call for a second, and then made an extremely nonchalant strikeout motion with his hand, following Buck’s lead that it was something of an obvious call. Giambi flipped, as well he should. It should have been bases loaded. Instead it was inning over. The other play was Melky’s bunt today. An out call from Montague clearly should have been safe, and what should have been first and second and none out, a clear bunting situation for Johnny Damon, became runner on second with one out. Again down a run. Huge.
6) The Royals got a key hit every single time they needed one. And Mo gave up two bombs in three days at home. Never happens. Certainly not against the Royals.
7) The Royals avoided getting down early, in the series and in every game. This game them the confidence to believe they could win.
So that’s it. I think the Royals just put it all together at the right time. And the Yankees were somewhat snake bit. But you can see the difference in the team with Allie and Posada in the lineup. The fact that they are not winning any blowout games is very odd, and I think that will change. Every game has been a struggle. Usually you get a laugher here and there. You want a crazy stat? Not counting the Seattle games, the Yankees have played just one game all season in which they took greater than a three run lead into the seventh inning. That’s a great way to burn your bullpen to a pile of ashes. So what becomes of the Yanks now? No idea. Oakland for three (they usually will lose two of those), and then the NL for the rest of the month. I have no more predictions….